Tag Archives: Guest post

‘My nearly debut novel’ – Guest post by G.J. Minett, author of Lie in Wait

Last week, Zaffre published the paperback of Lie in Wait, the latest crime thriller from G.J. Minett. To mark the occasion, I’m delighted to host a guest post in which the author tells us about his ‘nearly debut novel’, a novel with a really rather unusual name. But first, a little of what Lie in Wait is all about:

A man is dead. A woman is missing. And the police have already found their prime suspect…

Owen Hall drives into a petrol station to let his passenger use the facilities. She never comes back – and what’s more, it seems she never even made it inside.

When Owen raises a fuss, the police are called – and soon identify Owen himself as a possible culprit – not least because they already have him in the frame for another more sinister crime.

Owen’s always been a little different, and before long others in the community are baying for his blood. But this is a case where nothing is as it seems – least of all Owen Hall…

A dark, addictive thriller, ingeniously plotted with a twist that will make you gasp, LIE IN WAIT is perfect for readers of Angela Marsons or Rachel Abbott.

‘My nearly debut novel’

Given that I’ve been writing since I was at primary school and have harboured dreams of being a published author for more years than I’d care to admit, it would be fair to say that the words ‘overnight success’ are never going to feature in any summary of my career to date. Like most authors however I had my fair share of near misses along the way and none more frustrating than with the first novel I ever completed.

I had started it while still at university, then put it not so much on the back burner as in the freezer for a few years when I started teaching. It was initially called Lobello (don’t ask!) and was a somewhat anarchic comedy about life at university – think Tom Sharpe without the polish and you won’t go far wrong. When I came back to it a few years later, it attracted the attention of an agent who was then in the early stages of his career but who is now a household name – I shan’t say who because he may not wish to reminded of those days! He really liked the novel and asked if he could represent me, which was not the most challenging question I’ve ever been asked, I have to say. He even came to visit us at home although I suppose the fact that he was also visiting one of his established authors nearby may have had something to do with it.

Most writers will understand what I went through over the next twelve months. Every so often I would receive a letter, saying which publishers had been approached. Then the rejections started coming in, most saying positive things but all ending with a few variations on the theme of ‘in the current economic climate’ and the inevitable ‘thanks but no thanks’. My agent tried, bless him. He got me to rework the prologue and opening chapters, changed the title to One Degree Under, tried just about every publishing house around until even someone with his boundless enthusiasm had to bow to the inevitable and call it a day.

He has now gone on to establish himself as a leading figure in the literary world. Lobello/One Degree Under on the other hand has been stuck in a drawer ever since and doesn’t often see the light of day. The last time I took it out and dusted it off, I have to admit there were still passages that made me laugh but the weaknesses are so egregious I can’t imagine what possessed either of us to believe it deserved to be published.

It’s served its purpose though over the years. It proved I could sustain a novel right through to the end. It was the first indication I’d ever had that someone in the literary world felt I could write. It engendered correspondence with other prominent figures which encouraged me to believe that if I ever got my act together and had a serious run at it, I might just be able to get a novel published someday. If I’d realised then how long it would take, I might have reassessed a few priorities and gone for it in a big way much earlier.

Can’t complain though. It may have been a long time coming but it’s been more than worth it. And even if it’s only because of its sentimental value, I’ll probably take that first novel out of the drawer another five or ten years from now and read it again. The words soft spot were coined for things such as that.


For other stops on the Blog Tour, please take a look at the poster below.

‘Why I write’ – Guest post by Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing

This month, Faber & Faber published thriller Say Nothing by Brad Parks. I’ll be reviewing this shortly but, in the meantime, I’m delighted to host a very entertaining guest post from Brad on why he writes and what he gets out of it. But first, a little of what Say Nothing is about:

On a normal Wednesday afternoon, Judge Scott Sampson is preparing to pick up his six-year-old twins for their weekly swim. His wife Alison texts him with a change of plan: she has to take them to the doctor instead. So Scott heads home early. But when Alison arrives back later, she is alone – no Sam, no Emma – and denies any knowledge of the text . . .

The phone then rings: an anonymous voice tells them that the Judge must do exactly what he is told in an upcoming drug case and, most importantly, they must ‘say nothing’.

So begins this powerful, tense breakout thriller about a close-knit young family plunged into unimaginable horror. As a twisting game of cat and mouse ensues, they know that one false move could lose them their children for ever.

Hugely suspenseful – with its fascinating insight into the US judicial system and its politics of influence and nepotism – Say Nothing is, above all, the poignant story of the terror these parents face, and their stop-at-nothing compulsion to get their children back.

Guest Post: Why I Write

Given recent events, you poor Brits are surely accustomed to crass, boorish Americans—not mentioning names or anything—so this shouldn’t come as a shock:

I got into writing for the money and the sex.

It’s true, oh gentle For Winter Nights readers. My first writing gig was for a local weekly newspaper, when I was fourteen. The job paid 50 cents a column inch, which was more than I could make babysitting.

So that was the money. As for the sex? The gig involved covering the high school girls basketball team.

Now, suspend your disbelief, but at fourteen I wasn’t quite the paragon of strapping masculinity that I am today. I was short, fat, and wore braces. However, I figured that if I was writing for the paper, girls would have to talk to me. And then I’d be able to work my charm on them and get dates.


Yeah, that part didn’t quite work out. But it did introduce me to the joy of storytelling, and to what I soon discovered was the real reason I got into writing:

I love being read.

No matter how cringe-worthy my articles were—and, trust me, they were bad—the mothers and fathers of these girls basketball players would lap it up, and then report back their thoughts about that week’s article.

It made me eager to impress them with my insight, to entertain them with witty turns of phrases, to get them talking about my story in the bleachers at the next game—no matter how sophomoric my prose actually was.

I’ve come a long way as a writer since that time (or at least I hope I have). But some things haven’t changed. My fundamental goal when I sit down to write is still to make people react to my words—whether they’re feeling tension, or laughing, or crying, or something else altogether.

This feels like an especially appropriate confession to make at For Winter Nights, because this blog covers such a wide swath of genre fiction. And, to me, the real hallmark of great genre fiction is that it values the entertainment of the reader over the self-gratification of the writer.

Don’t get me wrong, I get a ton of enjoyment out of this, too—it’s a wonderful, albeit patently ridiculous, way to make a living. But I’m never going to let my own needs take precedence over yours as a reader.

And when I hear from one of you, saying my book made you stay up all night to finish it? From where I sit, that’s even better than money.

But not sex. This writing thing has its limits, you know.


Say Nothing by Brad Parks is published by Faber & Faber (£12.99)
Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.

For other stops on the Blog Tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Guest post: The background for the Bernicia Chronicles by Matthew Harffy

To celebrate the publication by Aria earlier this month of Blood and Blade, the third novel in the Bernicia Chronicles, I’m delighted to host a guest post by its author Matthew Harffy. In it, Matthew presents his thoughts on the term ‘Dark Ages’ and discusses the background to the Chronicles, which are set during a fascinating yet enigmatic period of British history, a period that sets challenges all of its own to historical authors.

My reviews of The Serpent Sword and Blood and Blade

Blood and Blade by Matthew HarffyThe background for The Bernicia Chronicles – Where does the history come from?

People often ask me if it is difficult to write about a period that is often referred to as the Dark Ages. They ask about the sources I use and how I can know what it was like and what happened. The short answer is, I can’t know. Nobody can really know what it was like to live in seventh century Britain. But, we can guess and we can make informed judgements.

Most, if not all, historians and academics of the post-Roman period of British history deplore the term “Dark Ages”, feeling that it somehow denigrates the amazing feats of craftsmanship, art and learning of the time. But I think the term is right for many reasons. First, of course, it really would have been dark. Houses and halls were lit by a central hearth and maybe some rush lights or oil lamps. Candles were expensive and rare, and apart from the richest in society, the setting of the sun probably signalled bedtime.

The second reason I feel that the term is accurate is that there are very few first-hand written accounts from the period. The Germanic tribes that settled in Britain after the Romans left were not a literate people. They had written language, runes, and created great sagas, poems and riddles, but they rarely wrote these things down. Most of the Old English texts that have survived, such as Beowulf, were written centuries after the seventh century.

The third reason for the term, I think, is that archaeology from the time is so hard to come by. Of course, in such a densely populated island as Great Britain, there are many finds; especially of burials, which is where we obtain much of our knowledge of the people of the era. But the Anglo-Saxons built their houses in wood, and timber doesn’t last long when unattended in the British climate, so there are no buildings left for us to walk around, no crumbling castles, mosaic floors or huge walls to marvel at. We must rely on aerial photos and LIDAR data giving away the location of great royal halls, and then piece together what they may once have looked like.

The Serpent Sword by Matthew HarffyAgainst this backdrop of what I think of as Dark Age Britain, you could be forgiven for believing that putting together a story that is gripping and also factually accurate is nigh impossible. But what some see as a hindrance, I see as a blessing. The period gives me great freedom to craft plots without being constrained in the same way that I would be if I wrote about a later time when there were newspapers, written diaries and an almost infinite number of primary sources.

I have bookshelves full of history books about the Anglo-Saxons, their clothing, their weapons, their politics, their kings, and all manner of other subjects, but the two books I return to over and over are The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede’s History of the English Church and People. I read the events described within these tomes and try to find something that sparks my attention. For The Serpent Sword it was a mention of the year following the death of King Edwin. Bede described the year as “looked upon by all people as despicable and shameful”. He goes on to talk about the savagery of Cadwallon’s harrowing of Northumbria. I thought this would make the perfect backdrop for my hero’s story. In The Cross and the Curse, it was the battle of Heavenfield and the coming of the first Christian bishop from Iona that caught my eye. In Blood and Blade, the story of the protagonist, Beobrand, is told around two historical events – the marriage of Oswald to the daughter of King Cynegils of Wessex and the siege of Din Eidyn (Edinburgh).

The Cross and the CurseAs soon as I have the idea for the historical events, I read up as much as I can about them and then go about weaving a page-turning plot around them. I map out the novel as best I can, with the limited information available, and then I get writing, focusing much more on the story, than the history. I rely on my prior reading and immersion in the period for the day-to-day details, and I also do further research to fill in any gaps after completing the first draft.

Another area of research that really helps to bring the period to life is that of living history, or practical archaeology, as carried out by groups such as Wulfheodenas and Regia Anglorum. There is so much that has been learnt by these extremely dedicated and knowledgeable people who some might see as just wanting to dress up in chain mail and hit each other! But there is so much more to what they do than the battle re-enactments (though I am sure it is the fighting that attracts most spectators, and possibly most people to join the groups). They recreate all of the tools, clothing, armour and weaponry using only resources that were available to our Anglo-Saxon forebears. Regia Anglorum has even built a full-size hall at a site they own, called Wychurst. Talking to people who have helped forge tools and build halls, men and women who have worn kirtles, breeches and byrnies and stood in a shieldwall on a rainy Saturday afternoon, people who have not only read about these things, but actually lived them, is a wonderful way to get what all historical fiction writers strive for – authenticity.

Ultimately, I cannot know whether the stories I write have any bearing on what really happened. In fact, I would be very surprised if events were anything like I portray them in the Bernicia Chronicles. But I am not trying to explain Dark Age Britain’s history, I am seeking to entertain. All I want to do is to tell a good tale against a backdrop of a credible seventh century. What I am aiming for is that when a reader finishes one of my books, they feel they have seen into a lost world. Did it happen that way? Was it like that? Almost certainly not, but I hope readers go away thinking that it might have been.

Matthew HarffyAuthor info:
Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. The first of the series, The Serpent Sword, was published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 1st June 2016. The sequel, The Cross and The Curse was released on 1st August 2016. Book three, Blood and Blade, was released on 1st December 2016.

Book info and links:
The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse and Blood and Blade are available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and all good online bookstores. Killer of Kings and Kin of Cain are also available for pre-order.

Contact links
Website: www.matthewharffy.com
Twitter: @MatthewHarffy
Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Blood and Blade blog tour poster

What’s in a name? – Guest post by Joanna Hickson, author of First of the Tudors

First of the Tudors by Joanna HicksonOn 1 December, Harper published First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson, the first in a new series of novels to portray the rise to power of quite possibly the most famous, and infamous, royal dynasty in English history. It begins with Jasper Tudor, uncle to the young Henry Tudor, later Henry VII, and what a fantastic story it is. Moving from castle to castle at a time when England and Wales were torn apart by the Wars of the Roses, First of the Tudors is a thoroughly enjoyable and lively account of such a fascinating time and Jasper Tudor is placed right at the heart of it all.

To celebrate the publication of First of the Tudors, I’m delighted to host a guest post by Joanna Hickson, in which she discusses the problems she encountered in naming her historical characters. Jasper Tudor had a very unusual name, even for the 15th century. Where did that come from? And what to do when so many important historical figures share the same name?

Review of First of the Tudors

What’s in a name?

When you write novels based on the history of medieval Europe there is often a problem identifying one character from another, because the same Christian names crop up time and time again in the family trees of the major dynasties. In England during the fifteenth century for instance the name Henry occurs confusingly often, cropping up in kings no less than four times and, due to the habit of sycophantic nobles calling their offspring after the reigning monarch, in almost every other courtier family fortunate enough to have sons. In First of the Tudors I have avoided repetition by calling Margaret Beaufort’s posthumous son, who was dutifully baptised Henry, by the Welsh variant of his name, which is Harri, leaving the ‘proper’ name to his half-uncle, King Henry VI.

Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna HicksonIt was a device I adopted in one of my previous novels set earlier in the century when the name Richard had become almost ubiquitous, owing to the initial popularity of the boy-king, Richard II. I made a guess that this could have been awkward for young noblemen arriving at court twenty years later saddled with the name of a monarch who had been unceremoniously usurped by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV. So, having an embarrassment of Richards to deal with in Red Rose White Rose I decided to give one of the three central Richard characters the nickname Hal after the new king’s son and heir, who Shakespeare also nicknamed Prince Hal. And following this thread, I had no hesitation in calling my Hal’s son and heir Dick rather than Richard, because he was a pugnacious character who became a very powerful earl, played a key role in the Wars of the Roses and eventually became famously known as ‘Warwick, the Kingmaker’. That left me free to use the name in full for his cousin, who so nearly became King of England himself, Richard, Duke of York, husband of the novel’s central character, Cicely Neville.

It was necessary to be similarly inventive when Henry VI’s longed-for heir was baptised Edward, named for the pre-Norman-conquest saint, King Edward the Confessor, at whose shrine in Westminster Abbey his mother had prayed desperately for a son. Unfortunately when this little prince was still a child, his cousin Edward of York seized the throne and became King Edward IV and suddenly there were too many Edwards in my timeline! However, as his mother was a French princess and a lady who dominated her monkish and withdrawn husband, I considered it more than likely that she would have insisted on using the French version of his name, so that he becomes Prince Édouard in the pages of my book. In the same vein, despite English historians invariably referring to her as Margaret of Anjou, she appears as Queen Marguerite in First of the Tudors, because one of the other important female characters is Lady Margaret Beaufort, also a proud and strong-willed woman, who definitely would not have appreciated having her name ignobly shortened to Meg or Maggie!

The Agincourt Bride by Joanna HicksonHappily I had no identity dilemma with the hero of First of the Tudors – Jasper Tudor. In fact it was his unusual Christian name that drew me to him in the first place as it was a conundrum I confronted in The Tudor Bride, a novel which focussed on the clandestine ‘misalliance’ between Henry V’s widow Queen Catherine de Valois and her Master of the Wardrobe, Owen Tudor. While their firstborn son received one of the usual panoply of noble names, being baptised Edmund, I felt I had to figure out why the couple went completely off-piste for their second and called him Jasper? While I would not claim that no other boy was baptised with that name in England in the fifteenth century, I have not come across one during many, many years of researching the period.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally think Jasper a splendid name and lucky are the several hundred boys who have received it annually in twenty first century Britain. But in 1430, which is roughly when my new hero was born, it was unusual – probably unheard of – in England. And therein lies a clue, for there were a number of Jaspers documented in France at the time and of course his mother, once again, was French. Jasper was thought to be a corruption of Caspar, one of the Three Magi who were much revered in the medieval Roman Catholic Church and perhaps a name given to boys born on Twelfth Night or Epiphany, celebrated as the day the Magi brought their gifts to the baby Jesus. The other two were called Balthazar and Melchior, names very occasionally also found in medieval European courts.

The Tudor Bride by Joanna HicksonSo as a princess, Catherine de Valois could have heard of the name but what circumstance might have caused her to break with English noble tradition and give it to her younger son? Well, Jasper also happens to be the name of a semi-precious gemstone, much used in medieval jewellery, most frequently in its red form known as bloodstone, although it comes in many and varied colours. Jasper Tudor was a redhead; the Welsh bards who sang his praises during the Wars of the Roses particularly refer to this fact. This is one of the delights of writing historical fiction; coincidence is allowed and we wander spellbound in the realms of extrapolation from the little snippets of information our research throws up. Another of them that rose to the surface for me was the fact that medieval midwives believed jasper to be an aid in relieving the pain of childbirth. It did not require a huge leap of imagination to picture Queen Catherine owning an item of jewellery set with bloodstones and for it to be used during the birth of her second Tudor child, a boy that proved to have hair the colour of those stones.
Jasper was a name that suited him perfectly, as a powerful courtier and wandering knight errant and one that actually ‘made his name’. For although he was created Earl of Pembroke by his half-brother Henry VI and should therefore have officially been referred to as Lord Pembroke, in the poetry of the Welsh bards and other fifteenth century historical sources he was simply called Lord Jasper – my hero!

Living among the extraordinary maiko of Kyoto, Japan – Guest post by Lesley Downer, author of The Shogun’s Queen

The Shogun's Queen by Lesley DownerThis week, Bantam Press publishes Lesley Downer’s new novel The Shogun’s Queen. This attractive novel, set during the middle years of the 19th century, tells of the transformation of the young and beautiful Okatsu from being an independent and free-sprited member of a samurai people, the Satsuma Clan, to becoming Princess Atsu, concubine and consort to the shogun himself. The Shogun’s Queen is both a romance and an adventure as Atsu’s changing fortunes are played out against a backdrop of Japanese politics, piracy, warfare and secrets. And Atsu is destined to play a role at the heart of it.

I’m delighted to host a guest post from Lesley Downer as part of the blog tour that celebrates the publication of The Shogun’s Queen. In it, Lesley tells us of her own experiences while researching the novel, a journey that led her to live among the geisha and maiko of Japan.

Living among the extraordinary maiko (trainee geisha) of Kyoto, Japan

When I’m in grey wintry London I spend a lot of my time in my mind back in Japan. There men and women lead rather separate lives and I was privileged to find myself welcomed into the women’s world. I often think back to the extraordinary time when I lived among geisha.

When I was in Kyoto doing research for my latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, I often went back to Miyagawa-cho, the geisha district where I used to live, to look up my friends among the geisha and maiko.

The upstairs room I stayed in for 6 months there only had three proper walls. The fourth was just sliding glass doors which didn’t do a very good job of keeping out the cold in winter or the heat in summer. I could hear every noise on the street outside. The doors opened onto a narrow balcony. I’d stand there and look down at the maiko clip clopping by on their high wooden clogs, chattering and laughing.

Lesley with a maiko friend

Lesley with a maiko friend

Maiko are trainee geisha. Most are in their mid-teens but they are magical creations – creatures of artifice, not teenagers. Their hair is oiled into stiff wings by the local hairdresser, who tucks in wads of yak’s hair to give volume. In the evening their faces are painted shimmering white and glow in the dark and they paint just the middle of the bottom lip with a single petal of bright red, which gives their mouths a pouting, bee stung look. They wear spectacular richly-coloured kimonos with long sleeves with bells that tinkle as they walk and a stiff very long obi sash of glittering brocade tied into a huge bow at the back with the ends hanging nearly to the ground.

They’re walking works of art – which is what the word ‘geisha’ means – ‘artiste’. Gei is ’arts’, sha is ’person’. In Kyoto the trainee geisha (aged 15 to 20) are called maiko – literally ‘dancing girls’ and the adults who’ve finished their training and qualified as geisha are geiko – ‘arts girls’. In all the other cities in Japan – and yes, there are geisha in every city in Japan – they are called geisha.

People always ask me if they sleep with men for money. My answer is that that’s like asking whether ballet dancers or opera singers sleep with men for money. Geisha are professional dancers and singers and skilled at the art of keeping the conversation light and entertaining – the perfect hostesses, in fact, and many a man’s ideal wife. They get paid quite enough – an enormous amount – just to do what they do.

Lesley in geisha makeup

Lesley in geisha makeup

Even at sixteen the maiko – the young trainee geisha – are already gracious and composed and confident.
Koharu was one of my favourites. I was once walking down the narrow street in Miyagawa-cho, lined with dark wooden houses with paper lanterns hanging outside. It was beginning to rain and I’d forgotten my umbrella. Koharu, a sixteen-year-old from a country town in the north, ran over and walked alongside me, holding her oiled paper umbrella over my head to protect me. She walked with tiny steps, toes pointed in. It was daytime, so she wasn’t wearing makeup. Her face was washed clean and she had huge innocent eyes.

In her bedroom she had a hard wooden pillow to stop her hair being mussed. She also had photographs of her pin ups, film stars and pop stars, tucked along the mirror. One had come to Kyoto and asked to be entertained by maiko and she’d been chosen to sit next to him, pour his drink and talk to him. She told me about it bubbling with excitement.

I also saw her at work in the evening, no longer a wide-eyed sixteen-year-old but a beauty with a white-painted face, pouring sake for rich and powerful men, teasing them, making them feel young again.

Being a maiko is a bit like being a model. There’s a distinctive look, a distinctive way of walking. Koharu was a country girl, a farmer’s daughter, but as a maiko she mixed with the richest, most powerful men in the realm – for those are the people who attend geisha parties. It was a sure way to rise in the world.

Last time I was back I heard that Koharu had left and gone back up north to get married but many of my other geisha friends were still there. I feel extraordinarily privileged to have been welcomed into their world.

In the end I collected my experiences into a book about geisha and went on to write several more books about the extraordinary worlds which women occupied in old Japan. The most recent, The Shogun’s Queen, is set largely in the vast harem in Edo Castle – a place where three thousand women lived and only one man, the shogun, could enter. But that’s another story!

For other stops on the blog tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Blog tour poster

War in The Last Horseman – Guest post by author David Gilman

The Last Horseman by David GilmanDavid Gilman is arguably best known for his Master of War series which brings the Hundred Years War of the 14th century to fascinating, bloody life through the deeds and experiences of English longbowman Thomas Blackstone. David has recently taken a break from the Middle Ages to turn his attention to a later conflict – the Anglo-Boer War of the 19th century – in The Last Horseman (published by Head of Zeus on 11 August this year).

To celebrate the publication, I asked David Gilman to write a guest post on the historical background of the war. But before that, here is a little by David on why he chose to write about this new period.

The inspiration behind The Last Horseman came from various sources. I had lived in South Africa and knew not only its beauty but also the harshness of its land. Such a country demanded tough and resilient people to live there, and equally determined men from around the world who went to explore and search for its mineral wealth. The war that exploded in 1899 threw British soldiers against a determined and dogged enemy. It was a story that had seldom been written about in fiction. The vast sweep of the country, the drama that unfolded in this war and the characters caught up in it, enticed me. I also wanted another layer of interest to write about, and for the novel not to just be a ‘war story’. The facts fascinated me. Many Irish soldiers fought in the British Army and they found themselves in conflict against a Foreign Brigade made up of other Irishmen as well as Americans, Germans, French, and as records seem to indicate, one Scotsman. I spent time in Dublin researching these elements.

I did not want a typically heroic main character but rather an older man who had experienced the horror of war and had no desire to return to it. His main enemy, apart from war itself, was a battle-hardened cavalry officer who lived only for battle and the violence it brought. Added to this mix I wanted my main character, Joseph Radcliffe, to carry a secret burden. I added some political intrigue and murder, all these elements finally drew together in what I hope is an ending fraught with danger and excitement.

War in The Last Horseman

So, where did this violent conflict of the Anglo-Boer War originate? In 1895 a failed uprising by British immigrants, volunteers and Rhodesian troops – a scheme instigated by Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of the Cape Colony – was considered by the South African general, Jan Smuts, as being the real declaration of war, but it was another four years before the Boer Republics themselves declared war against the British in October 1899. The might of the British Empire gave British politicians and generals a false sense that an easy victory would be achieved by Christmas. It is a perpetual mystery why politicians, in particular, seem never to learn the lessons of history.

The war caught the British unprepared. Troops were drafted from the Empire – India, New Zealand, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – and as tensions heightened volunteers joined the Boer Republics to fight in the Foreign Brigade. Irish, French, Scandinavians, Germans, Russians and, in at least one recorded incident, a Scotsman fought for the Afrikaner cause. There were also women who fought alongside the Boers in the front line.

In the years before the war began, the rush for gold and diamonds in the Transvaal Republic brought men from across the world, and many of them were Irish, who not only brought their strength and dreams to the goldfields but also secured their escape from British rule in Ireland. It was one of the vagaries of war that brought Irishmen to bear arms against each other.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Ireland was part of the British Empire. The Irish Republicans – known then as Fenians – had had little success in their bid for Home Rule. Their ranks were riddled with traitors and the British Army and Irish constabulary had little difficulty in keeping their activities under control. The Irish served in government posts: the civil service, the military and the navy. It was an inconvenient fact for the Irish Nationalists that more than fifty thousand of their fellow countrymen fought for the British Army during the Boer War and were often led by Irish generals.

This constituted the greatest number of Irish troops in any campaign during Queen Victoria’s reign and many of these men were at the forefront of a number of key engagements, serving in Ireland’s thirteen infantry battalions and three cavalry regiments. These men forged a lasting reputation for courage and tenacity. It was this moment in history that I wanted to use in The Last Horseman.

Reviews of the Master of War series
Master of War
Defiant Unto Death
Gate of the Dead (with interview)

Guest post: Commute writing by Paul Fraser Collard, author of The Last Legionnaire

Last week, the latest in Paul Fraser Collard’s wonderful Jack Lark historical adventure series was published – The Last Legionnaire. I’ve been a huge fan of this series since it began and was amazed to hear that they were all written on Paul’s commute to and from his job in London. It’s all I can do just to open a book on my bleary-eyed trek in to work, let alone focus enough to read it, and so I was impressed and surprised. I admire anyone who can write a novel, even more so when it’s fitted in around a full time ‘proper’ job, during a commute which you might have thought would be the least conducive time for creative endeavour. I’m delighted to feature below a guest post from Paul in which he looks at the mechanics of writing a novel on the move, including some tips that just might inspire you to put that commute to good use.

Review of The Last Legionnaire

The Last Legionnaire by Paul Fraser CollardCommute writing

Let’s face it; the daily commute is a grind. You can use it to read, listen to music, watch a film or simply zone out and stare into space. You can, if you are so inclined, use it to do all that work you can’t get done in the office. All are very valid things to do and I do not denigrate any who choose these or any other option. But you can, if you wanted, use it to do something amazing. You can use this dead, unloved time, to write a novel.

You may think that would be impossible. After all, isn’t novel writing done by scholarly men and women in beautifully appointed offices decorated to inspire a finely tuned mind? How can a commuter hope to do the same whilst incarcerated in a tiny space on a commuter train? Well, it can be done. I have now written eight novels and three short stories whilst enduring my own daily commute into London.

So how can it be done? Well, here is my handy guide to writing on a commute.

Let’s start with the numbers. An average novel is 100,000. Sounds a lot? Well, let’s break it down. Let’s say you write a very manageable 500 words in a day, 250 on the way to work and the same again on the way home. That means in the span of just one year, you can have a full length novel under your belt and still have 12 weeks free. Boost that 500 words a day to 1,000 and you can get a novel written in 20 short weeks. Now, to be fair, that is simplifying things a little. No writer (at least no writer that I have ever met) writes a novel in one single, glorious draft. But the numbers stack up. Write something every day and in a relatively short space of time you will have a finished draft. Most writers only produce one novel a year and that is perfectly possible for us to achieve on our commute.

The mechanics of writing are also quite simple. Lightweight laptops, tablets with keyboard and e-readers means there is a bewildering choice of tech for a wannabe writer. It may not be a leather-topped oak desk with a far-reaching view over a beautiful landscape, but it does mean that the handful of inches you can stake a claim to on a busy commuter train is sufficient for you to be able to write. Research books can be kept on a tablet and for some things there will be a suitable app to put whatever resource you need onto your phone. It may not be glamorous or even comfortable, but the well-prepared commute writer should be able to find enough space to be able to write. Most days anyway.

Writing that novel is less simple and can require a change of mindset. I imagine full-time writers may sometimes allow their attention to wander. For us commuter writers, speed is the key. Ruminating has to be left to other times. Try to know what you want to write before you sit down (or perch in a luggage rack). Plan ahead then use the commute as the time to throw the words down. Forgotten something or not sure of a fact? Well, don’t stop but leave a mark so you can go back to it. Once that precious first draft is done you can polish the hell out of it. If you have done it in 20 weeks then you have plenty of time to spread the magic and to work in those lovely nuggets of fascinating research you didn’t use first time around.

The Scarlet Thief by Paul Fraser CollardWrite often. Write fast. Then edit, change and add.

So now you know how many words to write on your daily commute, what to write it on and how to write it. But what to actually write? Well, you know, that’s the best bit. You can write what the hell you like!

Write something that you would love to read. Sure, you need to pour every part of your soul into creating characters that leap off the page and into weaving a plot that sears along at such a pace that it leaves your readers breathless. But there really are no rules as to who those characters should be and what that plot must contain. If you don’t believe me then just spend five minutes in a bookshop and look at the sheer scope of all those novels lined up in the fiction section. There are really are a million possibilities.

So there you have it. Use your commute for whatever you like. If, like me, you choose to use it to write novels then perhaps you will create something in that unloved bit of your day that sets your world, and the world of an army of readers, alight.